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Biological interactions and toxicity of nanomaterials in the respiratory tract and various approaches of aerosol generation for toxicity testing


After deposition in the respiratory tract, nanoparticles exhibit acute, neutrophil-driven inflammatory and oxidative reactions, fibrotic responses and in chronic studies under overload conditions carcinogenic effects, more severely than the microscaled materials of the same chemistry. Besides these effects also known to be induced by microsized particles, nanoparticles principally can translocate from the site of exposure to circulation and become systemically available. This may either increase the toxic outcome (e.g. cardio-vascular effects and potential responses in remote organs) or facilitate an elimination of nanomaterials. For example, in combination with partial dissolution, a strong lung response after a short-term inhalative exposure may be followed by a rapid recovery effect. Mechanistically, in vitro and in vivo tests demonstrated that nanoparticles induce inflammation and oxidative stress after interaction with macrophages and lung epithelial cells; consequently, a cytotoxic and genotoxic potential may exist. The deposition, retention and clearance behaviour of inhaled nanomaterials and the toxic effects observed are decisively dependent on the particle agglomeration status of the aerosol. Two principally different experimental approaches are used for inhalative exposure to nanoparticles: either (1) a basic research-oriented approach using very small aerosol mass concentrations or particle formulations that result in at least partially nanoscaled aerosols; in this way, the potential hazard and the translocation potential for individual nanoparticles can be followed effectively; or (2) exposure scenarios mimicking the occupational situation (risk-oriented) with mostly agglomerated nanoparticles; consequently, the probable risk deriving from incidental/accidental exposure can be assessed more adequately.

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The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Otto Creutzenberg.

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This article is published as a part of the Special Issue “Nanotoxicology II” on the ECETOC Satellite workshop, Dresden 2010 (Innovation through Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials + Current Aspects of Safety Assessment and Regulation).

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Creutzenberg, O. Biological interactions and toxicity of nanomaterials in the respiratory tract and various approaches of aerosol generation for toxicity testing. Arch Toxicol 86, 1117–1122 (2012).

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  • Nanoparticles
  • Agglomeration
  • Translocation
  • Exposure scenario